The New York Police Department got a big lesson in social media this week. It created a Twitter hashtag – #myNYPD – to get people to tweet pictures of happy New Yorkers standing with smiling officers. But this being both New York, and social media, the NYPD didn’t get quite what it expected.
Not only did it backfire – now the hashtag has spread on Twitter to other police departments like Los Angeles and Chicago.
Twitter users sent in scores of pictures of New Yorkers who appear to be abused, beaten, even run over by officers. Some of the photos may be old or misleading, but the NYPD fell into a trap that has sunk many a social media campaign before it.
“Part of me is kind of incredulous. Didn’t they expect they would get this kind of backlash?” says Ann Handley, head of content at MarketingProfs, and co-author of Content Rules. “You can’t get people to talk about how great you are on Twitter.”
The NYPD could have learned something from McDonald’s' experience two years ago. It wanted people to send in nice comments with the hashtag “#McDstories.” They got something else entirely, says Howard Fencl, Vice President at the crisis communications firm Hennes Paynter Communications. “Trolls came out of the woodwork with ‘my brother found fake fingernail in his french fries, #McDstories,” he says. "People are sick of spin.”
Some companies have more success jumping into what everyone is already talking about on Twitter. After Colorado legalized marijuana, Ben & Jerry’s tweeted a picture of empty ice cream shelves, which went down well with Twitter users.
But if you’re big and important, the public might just be itching to knock you down a peg.
“The Police Department. McDonald's. You talk about taking it to the man, not every organization is ‘The Man’,” says Jay Baer, founder of the social media consultancy, Convince & Convert.
Baer says social media doesn’t create hate; it just uncovers it.